Beauty inverted, leveled and carved from the same stone.


A photograph is not an opinion. Or is it?” –Susan Sontag

Tim Arroyo’s Metamorphosis: The Inner Beauty Project exhibit examines beauty from a linear perspective. It’s on display at ArtStreet at the University of Dayton, Ohio. According to the exhibit description, the show is based on “an observation of the unwillingness to be photographed and shedding one’s outer layer to reveal a beauty from within.” I’d venture to say it’s also an obsessive look at beauty from a man who loves women and wants them to see the equanimity, evenness and equality in their physical features through one photographic process. The equality is not to say they are all the same, because the women, obviously are different—ages, races and ethnicities. However, there’s a reverence in the simplicity. The fact is that this particular approach does not detect make up with the exception of a small amount of black eyeliner (which a few women opted to use). I’ve seen him experiment with this approach for the last two years or so. The pupils look dilated and there’s a graying of the features no matter the skin tone of the subject. This blurring of identity creates a dramatic tension. The viewer is immediately drawn to the eyes and story behind the portrait of each woman staring directly out, in essence, proclaiming the universality of her beauty.  He elevates the idea of beauty with this focus on sight. There are stories I can invent just by looking at each woman.

I was asked to be a part of the project and agreed at first, but changed my mind when my grandmother passed away. I felt sad and vulnerable and didn’t want to be photographed as part of the exhibit. Why? Because the exposure, photographic and through the promise of an exhibit, created an emotional risk for me. And I didn’t want to be documented in such a raw way when I felt raw.

Vulnerability and Imperfection

That rawness and vulnerability is what’s explored in both of Brené Brown’s TED Talks on vulnerability and shame.  As I recently told a colleague who had not heard of her research, you need to watch the videos, just from a human being perspective. You’re life will be expanded, better.  Her class, The Gifts of Imperfection has generated a social media movement causing women to post “regular” photos of themselves with “I am imperfect and I am enough.” (As a side note, there’s also a powerful lesson in her talks about how women prevent men from being vulnerable. Recall if you’ve ever referred to a grown man as “being a baby” when he is ill. It’s that nurturing and wholehearted love that we all need.)

Seeing Tim’s work made me think of two expansive photography projects. The earlier, dates back to 1979 and is a follow-up project from the Museum of Modern Art in New York, titled: The Family of Woman, A Worldwide Photographic Perception of Female Life and Being. The other is, “Women” by Annie Leibovitz. I was blessed to see the latter in person at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC in 1999. Susan Sontag wrote the essay to accompany the Leibovitz exhibit:

Any large scale picturing of women belongs to the ongoing story of how women are perceived, and how they are invited to think of themselves.”

Reverence Reinvented

I’ve observed Tim Arroyo’s work for close to eight years.  As a fellow photographer and a progressive woman, I’ve thought, “Man, this guy likes women. He likes women’s bodies. In all their shapes and forms. Everybody’s sexy.” He also has some rather bizarre shots of beautiful women, altered into what I would call Cyclops and other creatures from his imagination. I’ve been at exhibits and watched the reaction to some of his more unusual contortions of beauty. There’s a fascination by some viewers with the idea of how traditional beauty can be converted into something shocking that makes your head tilt sideways. Often, especially with his own eerie self-portraits, I have a tickling in my brain that reminds me of the work of Rene Magritte mixed with Picasso’s Cubist era and a big pot of Dali Surrealism.

And this has made me wonder, from a feminist perspective, is he objectifying women? Or am I being a prudish, despite all my proclamations of progressiveness? If you’ve read any earlier blog posts, you’ll notice that I’ve been a bit obsessive with Danielle LaPorte’s The Desire Map. Through that inverted approach to goal-setting, I’ve looked at core desired feelings to help guide how I want to feel every day.  And I’ve asked, what’s wrong with a mother in her forties also wanting to look sexy? I was raised in a diverse neighborhood dominated by liberals and intellectuals. Many folks looked down upon physical beauty and fashion as superficial. I’ve learned since climbing out of poor health after childbirth, that self-care from the inside out generates love and beauty. Sontag writes, “But in real life it’s still common to begrudge a woman who has both beauty and intellectual brilliance…” I’ve embraced the fact that external beauty and creative fashion can further my own artistic expression.

What’s wrong then, with a photographer who obsesses over images of all sorts of women in different shapes and sizes, with and without tattoos, with big bellies and thighs, with natural hair and hair full of product? What’s wrong with his bowing down to the power of their beauty, sensuality and rawness in this Metamorphosis exhibit? I’ll tell what’s wrong with it: nothing. That’s what I found through years of watching Tim’s work. It’s his work. Folks seek him out to document their moments in time. Even as some of his images are not to my taste and make me uncomfortable, they have prompted me to think about beauty, women and art. I’ve also reflected upon the physical body and how it can be manipulated to form beautiful and ugly images depending upon one’s perspective. One of my favorite people in the world doing great things for the image of women’s bodies is Taryn Brumfitt from Australia. She has started the Body Image Movement and has rocked the world in terms of being happy with her current state of normalness. This comes from a former fashion model. She has made me rethink beauty and the physical and so has Tim.

Wild Wisdom and the Artful Arc of Aging

One other element that pleased me mightily about Metamorphosis, is that it shifts perceptions on aging. Sontag wrote, “…women are punished more than men are by the changes brought about by aging. Ideals of appearance such as youthfulness and slimness are in large part now created and enforced by photographic images.” Some of my favorite images in the show are of the women advanced in age. For more than a decade, I’ve had the privilege of working with women ten to forty years my senior, and they are some of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met.  Like the great Dr. Maya Angelou wrote in her poem, Phenomenal Woman excerpted here:

Men themselves have wondered

What they see in me

They try so much

But they can’t touch

My inner mystery,

When I try to show them

They say they still can’t see.

I say

It’s in the arch of my back

The sun of my smile

The ride of my breasts

The grace of my style.

I’m a woman


Phenomenal woman

That’s me.

You can listen to Dr. Angelou recite the full poem here.

Tim Arroyo

Story of Origin

As with many visual artists, Tim thrives on images, not words. I know this because he doesn’t talk that much. He has worked for years with maternity photography hashing out life before life comes. This stems from a man with a thriving family, who has also seen his share of loss. He is the father of two beautiful girls and married to a wildly feminist woman who doesn’t stop.

Tim has done some very interesting studies on smoke, nature and botany, which can also be very sensual, beautiful and ugly in an aesthetically pleasing way. (I’m a huge fan of object photography and fascinated by work like Irving Penn’s studies of trash on the sidewalk.) Some of my favorite works are Tim’s objects, particularly his portals series.

It’s clear that Tim has a number of talents as a professor and as a photographer. As any artist or entrepreneur knows, art and ideas can create conversation and controversy. That’s when we’ve done our job to make you think, feel and react.  Seth Godin wrote a wonderfully short post this year about the humility of the artist. It may seem arrogant to say, “Perhaps this isn’t for you.” In actuality, he argues, it’s arrogant to think that your work could appeal to all. “Finding the humility to happily walk away from those that don’t get it unlocks our ability to do great work.” To connect with Tim Arroyo, check out his website or like him on Facebook.

Tim Arroyo Metamorphosis

What’s it to ya?

The Gage Apple Cider Donut with Orange Coriander Ice Cream

Today is a day of gifts. Three Kings bring gifts.  No matter your tradition, why not accept the gifts I’m giving to you right now? There are eight gifts below. Take your pick!

So what’s it to ya? Food. Oh food. I love it! As I write, I’m trapped with my family indefinitely in my 1200 square foot condo in Chicago and it’s -7 degrees. We’ve been inside for days, weeks! I get extra credit for getting dressed today, accessorizing and putting on a little makeup.  (Don’t ask me if I’m in an elastic waistband. Well now that I raised it, of course I am.)  I’ve rebooked my mother’s flight to Philly five times. And five times her flight has been cancelled. All my home projects are not done and yet, I feel renewed and that I’ve had one of the best family hangouts of all time.

So about food. We wake up and plan our meals while eating breakfast. My mother “smuggled” 12 Tastykake pies and two dozen soft pretzels through TSA. Food is how we celebrate, commiserate, communicate and exist. This, my friends, is a recipe for an emotional relationship with food. And guess what, I can deal with it. However, I still like to tap into some resources to help me understand it and to pay attention to when and how much I eat. To why I eat and whether I’m actually, get this: hungry!

So this post (featuring the most gorgeous apple cider doughnut from one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago – The Gage) is all about loving food and loving your body, no matter where you are at.

So to keep this easy to digest, here are some of my favorite resources right now in the world to celebrate food, eating, your body and your health. (Note to dog lovers–there’s a part about a healthy “beer” for dogs):

1. Body Image Movement: Taryn Brumfitt, this amazing Australian former model is now an amazing normal person who eats burgers and is healthy and likes her body. Do you struggle with that? Then check out her website and become her friend on Facebook.

2. Food Babe: You will learn more than you probably want to learn…my husband has now become a healthy smoothie expert in part due to Food Babe’s influence. Vani, aka Food Babe, is a person who had an office job, then got appendicitis that was misdiagnosed, then chose to revamp the way she eats and lives. Some of my favorite resources include her interview with Marie Forleo featuring five healthy foods you shouldn’t eat, her piece on beer and Pepperidge Farm Goldfish (think scientists making a chemical ingredient in your smiley snack cracker that interacts with your brain to make your crave it more – red alert!). It’s worth subscribing to her blog and check out this recent New York Times article which features the Food Babe Army.

3. Dawg Grog: Since I mentioned the beer post above, I know that I have a ton of readers who are dog lovers and beer drinkers. Yesterday I read an article about this wonderful entrepreneur from Bend, Oregon who likes to kick back with a brew at the end of the day and his dog, wants to do the same. Thus, Dawg Grog was born. It’s nonalcoholic and contains some healthy ingredients for your pup. Check it out.

4. What’s a GMO? It’s a genetically-modified organism. While I’m not an expert, here’s how I look at it as a consumer: there’s food that grows on the planet and food that’s altered by scientists with chemicals modified to grow differently or to interact with human beings to create certain reactions. In the early 90s new proteins were introduced into the food supply. No human trials were conducted to see if they were harmful. The hormones, for example, injected into cows to create more milk caused the cows to get sick, have cysts and need antibiotics. So countries like the UK and Canada decided that is wasn’t proven safe and opted not use them. The U.S. took a different approach. They decided that it wasn’t proven dangerous and so kept using them. Cysts in Cows? Cancer in People? The U.S. has a higher rate of cancer with 9 out of 10 cases being caused by the environment. It’s not just cows, it’s soy, it’s corn. There’s even a corn that has been engineered that as it grows it releases its own insecticide. General Mills is not permitted to use GMOs in its Cheerios in Europe, but until their announcement a few days ago, they used them in U.S. manufactured Cheerios. Think about how many kids eat cheerios in the U.S.

Robyn O’Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truthis a former food industry analyst, a conservative with type A personality who had four kids in five years. One morning, after eating L’eggo my Eggo waffles and blue yogurt, her kid’s face began to swell up. She had no idea what was happening. The rest is history. I urge you to set aside 18 minutes for your own health to watch her “Patriotism on a Plate” Tedx talk. She’s been called the Erin Brockavich of the food industry.  And here’s what Erin Brockavich says about her: I believe that in the absence of the truth, all of us stand helpless to defend ourselves, our families and our health, which is the greatest gift we have. You don’t have to be a doctor or a scientist to look into whether our food supply is safe, and Robyn O’Brien’s courageous pursuit of THE UNHEALTHY TRUTH is an example of how we can all do our parts to protect the health of our families.”  If you want to learn more about food allergies, check out her organization, Allergy Kids, or Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) or read my Courage to Be Catherine post.

5. Weight Watchers: Peeps, this is not a diet. I’m going to tell you something, I don’t always count “points” on this program. It’s a lifestyle which raises your consciousness about how you eat and why you eat.  The meetings are worth it.  I lost 25 pounds on it in utter and complete kindness to myself.

6. Kerri Richardson, Clutterbuster, Intuitive Life and Business Strategist: What can I say about Kerri? She kicks butt. She is a total and complete straight-talker from Massachusetts. I took her clutterbuster e-course this year and it changed my life. For real. We dealt with physical, mental and emotional clutter and are you ready for this: love handles can be a form of clutter. I’m not talking Body Image Movement love handles, I’m talking lots of excess weight that impacts your health. And here’s the cool thing about all that I learned from Kerri, none of it makes you feel guilty or bad. It’s a message to you and you can listen to it. Hey love handles, what are you trying to tell me? Lucky you, Kerri is offering a free webinar on weight loss on January 17. Even if you are shy, just consider listening in. By the way, Kerri lost 70 pounds, and she was nice to herself along the way.

7. Geneen Roth: Author, When Food is Love and Women Food and God, An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything. This is a referral from a friend. She read the latter book and it completely changed her relationship to food. Regardless, I’m also intrigued by her book, Lost and Found: One Women’s Story of Losing her Money and Finding her Life. She lost her money in the Madoff fiasco and found a big a-ha moment related to a mentality of lack and scarcity related to money which she had never discovered despite all of her work in this arena related to food. So the lesson here: we are all human.  Always learning.

8. Love it. This is from my expert opinion. Love your food. Enjoy your food. You don’t need to overanalyze it. You need to pay attention. That’s it. No diets. Just pay attention. A book which I’ve always enjoyed is French Women Don’t Get Fat, by Mirelle Guiliano, the former President and CEO of Clicquot, Inc. And you know what, French women consume, bread, cheese, red wine and champagne. They enjoy life. And they know that the first three bites will taste the same as the 7th, 8th and 9th bites. So sometimes, they stop at the first three.

Okay friends, eight tips, that’s my lucky number, so with that I say Happy Epiphany, Three Kings and Happy, Happy EATING, LIVING AND LOVING!

xo, me

Botticelli Belly

Imagefor all the C-Section Mamas

I love my Botticelli Belly

one year ago

brought my treasure forth

nearly nine pounds

cut the strings that make me young

and gave me that jiggle

nowadays after he’s drunk with dairy love

he plays my tambor

blows raspberries

waits for my giggle guffaw

‘til the belly gives a bonus shake and wiggle

I wrote this after my son was born in an effort to appreciate my body at that exact moment. A friend told me recently that she was reading one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott, who was writing about body image.  She decided to call her thighs “the aunties” and give them names.  She looked at them like the eccentric aunts whom you love, but maybe they are a little embarrassing sometimes.  I know that when I looked at my belly’s stretch marks during the time of this poem, I thought, these are race tracks, yes, race tracks of love. If you are interested in rethinking your body image, become a facebook fan of the Body Image Movement founded by Australian Taryn Brumfitt or check out her website. She had been doing amazing things in the world to radiate love.

In my previous post, I talked about Self-Care September.  We are almost there.  I invite you to pick something to do for yourself on a regular basis and practice it. For example, it took me months to watch this 10 minute video about 10 mindful minutes of daily meditation—trust me it’s like no other, the guy juggles and will make you feel like you can do it.  Since I started that daily 10 minute meditation nearly a year ago, my physical manifestations of stress have disappeared. Stress still occurs, yet my reaction is different.  And here’s the clincher: all you have to do is breathe.  You are already doing that.

Or maybe you are going to use September to make a year’s worth of doctor’s appointments for yourself.  Or maybe you want to go back to school, but can’t afford tuition right now. Why not finally master math, science or learn about the arts and humanities for free?  You can enroll in Khan Academy where this non-profit online learning resource led by MIT and Harvard graduate Sal Khan walks you through any number of concepts in 17-20 minutes.

Or take some time to dream about that vacation you want to take and actually make a savings plan, vision board, a declaration to go.

I believe in you.  You believe in you. Take September to start anew.